Q&A: Sociologist Ben Carrington Talks Race, Sports and Politics

30143_97814129010313Starting today, athletes, head coaches, researchers and academics from across the nation are convening at the Forty Acres to discuss ways to improve academic and career success for Black student athletes. To celebrate The Black Student-Athlete Conference, we are bringing back a post from our archives featuring a Q&A with UT Austin Sociologist Ben Carrington, author of “Race, Sport and Politics” (Sage, Sept. 2010).

Read on to learn more about his research on athletes of color, and how academics can play a critical role in dispelling racial stereotypes that continue to be enforced in the media today. 

Go to this website for more about the conference, hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and two of its units: the African American Male Research Initiative and the Longhorn Campaign for Men of Color. Use #blackstudentathlete to participate in the live Twitter conversation.

This post was originally published in August, 2010.

Benjamin Carrington is an associate professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.

Ben Carrington is an associate professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin.

 What is the major theme of your book? 

I argue that the sociology of sport needs to go beyond some of the traditional ways of thinking about race and sport. Once you understand sport’s historical and contemporary role in shaping racial discourse, you not only see how race impacts sport, but also how sport itself changes ideas about races and racial identity in society as a whole.

How did the world of sports alter perceptions of race during the 20th century?

At the beginning of the 20th century, whites were considered to be superior to blacks, intellectually, aesthetically and even physically. By the 1930s, this logic begins to shift as blacks are viewed as potentially physically superior to whites in matters related to sports. Jack Johnson played a pivotal role in challenging these ideas of white supremacy when he became the first black heavyweight champion of the world, which is supposed to be the epitome of superior physical strength.

What role do you believe does politics play in sports?

Some people argue that sports work like a distorting mirror. It has an ideological effect that makes us believe we’re all happily a part of the same world. In the World Cup, one of the FIFA advertisements stated, ‘this is not about politics, war, religion or economics. It’s about football.’ That makes us feel like we’re all human beings that love the same sport. But in truth it’s all about politics when you see politicians in the stands promoting their countries and wearing their national colors. On one hand it’s an apolitical platform for games and entertainment, but on the other hand sport is deeply infused with political ideology.

Your book argues that the media continues to perpetuate fears of the black male athlete. Could you point out a recent example of this? 
 
The April, 2008 cover of Vogue generated some controversy over how NBA star LeBron James is depicted with supermodel Gisele Bundchen. In the picture, LeBron has striking similarities to the classic ‘King Kong’ image carrying off Fay Wray, a racially loaded simian metaphor that draws upon white fears about black male hypersexuality and violence. The magazine cover metonymically plays with these deeply racist symbols in using one of the world’s most famous black men to portray a ferocious gorilla carrying off a white woman.

Looking back at the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa, could you give me an example of racial bias among the sports media?

When the United States played Ghana in the World Cup, the Ghanaians were often described as both ‘athletic’ and ‘unpredictable.’ That notion implies they’re emotionally unstable, and that even they don’t know what they’re going to do next. But at the same time, they are somehow endowed with extraordinary physical strength and ability, as if the other players at the World Cup are somehow ‘unathletic.’ Their culture is attributed as unstable, so these racial attitudes, which are not just about Ghana but ultimately about all black people, are reproduced in sports. It’s what sociologists refer to as ‘racism without racists.’ Nobody aside from extremists admits to being racist anymore, but we often use ways of seeing the world that rely upon racial frameworks that end up producing racist effects and outcomes. This is what I refer to in the book, drawing on the work of the sociologist Joe Feagin, as the ‘white colonial frame.’ There are no objectively existing ‘races,’ only ways in which we see race, and sport plays a very important role in the production and reproduction of these ideas about race and racial difference.

You argue that black athletes are commonly seen as physically gifted and intellectually stunted. What do you mean by this?

You see this in the way that many people believe that black athletes are ‘naturally’ gifted for sports, implying that their success comes from within, that it is rooted in their biology. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that there is a split between the physical and the intellectual. Just as we might admire an animal’s spectacular physicality, we don’t therefore assume that animals have our cognitive capabilities. So the praising of black athleticism often serves to reinforce notions of black intellectual inferiority.

How do you believe these stereotypes are perpetuated in the sports media?

White sports commentators and journalists used to be very explicit in comparing black athletes to monkeys and gorillas and cheetahs. Today they are more circumspect and instead tend to over-emphasize black players physical attributes – power, speed, strength and so on – and conversely tend to highlight the ‘intelligence’ and ability to ‘read the game’ of white athletes, who supposedly lack the ‘natural advantage’ of their black peers but can make up for it by their better play-making abilities. You often see this in how white basketball and football players are described, especially quarterbacks.

I would also add that college sports help to perpetuate these myths, especially given how committed big-time college sports programs are to winning conference and national titles using the labor of predominately black ‘student-athletes.’ At the same time, they demonstrate a lack of concern with actually graduating these students, most of whom will not go on to become professional athletes. Thus, these issues are really systemic, running through professional sports to the college level and even into high schools where we see similar patterns.

What kind of reaction do you hope to get from your fellow sociologists after your book is released in September?

The book challenges mainstream sociologists to take sport more seriously than they have done up until now and takes sociologists of sport to task too for not engaging critically enough with questions of race, so I’m hoping there will be a reaction of some kind. Better to be discussed and debated than ignored is my motto right now.

 

Humanities Texas Holiday Book Fair on Dec. 6

Humanities Texas will host its sixth annual Holiday Book Fair at the historic Byrne-Reed House on the corner of 15th and Rio Grande Streets in downtown Austin on Saturday, December 6, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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 A number of noteworthy authors, including Lawrence Wright, Sarah Bird, James Magnuson, Elizabeth Crook, S. C. Gwynne, Naomi Shihab Nye, Bill Wittliff, Carrie Fountain, M. M. McAllen, Jacqueline Jones, Richard Parker, Margaret Lewis Furse, John Taliaferro, Wayne Thorburn, Emilio Zamora, Chris Tomlinson, James E. Bruseth, Tracy Dahlby, and Steve Wilson, will visit with the public and sign copies of their latest books, which Humanities Texas will offer for purchase at a discounted price. Available titles include works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry with selections for both adult and youth audiences.

Humanities Texas will have books available for purchase at a discounted price, with all proceeds benefiting Texas libraries. Free parking will be available in the St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church lot on the northwest corner of 15th and Rio Grande Streets.

Coffee will be available alongside a sale of homemade and donated pastries and baked goods. All of the proceeds from the bake sale will also benefit Texas libraries.

“Join us for a good read and a good cause,” said Michael L. Gillette, executive director of Humanities Texas.

Please see www.humanitiestexas.org for more details about the event, including a full description of titles and authors.

If you’d like more information about this event, please contact Liz James, coordinator of educational programs at Humanities Texas, at 512.440.1991 ext. 123 or ljames@humanitiestexas.org

UT Press Fall Online Book Sale

2365ecaa6ce119aa9190dbcc31ef5398d22cb3ecThe holidays are upon us and what better gift for those on your list than a book? Get your virtual shopping cart ready for The University of Texas Press online book sale Nov. 10-14.

All titles in a range of subject areas – food, photography, music, film and media studies, and many more—will be eligible for purchase at a 45 percent discount online, plus free domestic shipping for all campuses in the University of Texas System.

In order to receive the special discount, you must use a special coupon code at check out. All information about the sale, including check out instructions, can be found on this website.

Important details:

-All titles on our site are already 33 percent off. Faculty, staff and students will receive an additional discount off the full retail price for a total of 45 percent off.

-Use the code UTPF14 at checkout to reduce your purchase price to a 45 percent discount.

-Sales tax will be added to your total.

New Book Offers Behind-the-Scenes Look at Acclaimed Richard Linklater Film “Boyhood”

Boyhood-Book-cover A new book from the University of Texas Press presents more than 200 images taken over 12 years on the set of director Richard Linklater’s critically acclaimed new film, Boyhood.

Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film features photos by Austin-based photographer Matt Lankes, along with commentary by Linklater, actors Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane and others to create a behind-the-scenes portrait of the film. Cathleen Sutherland, a University of Texas at Austin alumna and the film’s producer, also provides commentary.

In 2002, Linklater began filming the “Untitled 12-Year Project.” He cast four actors (Arquette, Hawke, Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater) in the role of a family and filmed them each year over the next dozen years. Seen through the eyes of a young boy in Texas, Boyhood unfolds as the characters—and actors—age and evolve, the boy growing from a soft-faced child into a young man on the brink of his adult life, finding himself as an artist.

Lankes captured the progression of the film and the actors through the lens of a 4×5 camera, creating a series of arresting portraits and behind-the-scenes photographs. His work documents Linklater’s unprecedented narrative that used the real-life passage of years as a key element to the storytelling. Revealing, personal recollections by the actors and filmmakers accompany the photographs.

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“Unlike the film, which embodies the passing of time, Matt Lankes’ stills and portraits capture something very different—single moments suspended in time,” Linklater wrote in the foreword. “I have really been looking forward to the day all his work, this long-term photographic project, could be viewed as one collection. I’m so glad this book exists as a gallery of his portraits and a testament to the memories that we created in making Boyhood.”

Lankes is a professional photographer whose clients include Livestrong, HBO, Fox Searchlight, Texas Monthly, Interview, Time Inc., Newsweek, GSD&M, Austin Monthly, Lee Jeans, Random House, Warner Brothers, Cowboys and Indians, Chevrolet, and Pentagram Design. His work is in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian and the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.

The 200-page book will be published November 1. It features 214 color and black and white photos.

 

Michener Center Presents Reading by America’s “Pugilistic Poet” August Kleinzahler

member_image_13229290248615022461Acclaimed poet August Kleinzahler will present a reading at a campus event hosted by the Michener Center for Writers on Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m. in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302.

 

Kleinzahler’s impressive body of work is a hybrid of high and low influences, mixing street-smart language and articulate cultural references with his unique brand of hard-boiled whimsy. His outsider stance has also gained him a reputation as a literary bad-boy, the “pugilistic poet,” duking it out with both pop culturists—somewhat famously, Garrison Keillor, over his folksy “Good Poems” anthology—and academics alike. Kleinzahler’s literary fame has built steadily over four decades.

 

He published a handful of poetry books with independent presses before New York publisher Farrar Straus & Giroux picked up his 1995 “Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow.” They have published his last six books, as well as revived earlier work in new editions.  

 

Kleinzahler won the distinguished Griffin International Poetry Prize in 2004 for “The Strange Hours Travelers Keep,” and his new and selected poems, “Sleeping it Off in Rapid City” (2008), was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award. His prose also regularly appears in the London Review of Books and Slate, among others, and he has published a volume of meditative essays, “Cutty One Rock:  Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained.” His newest book of poems is “The Hotel Oneira,” which the Guardian describes as “dreamlike yet savvy, among the most delightful flowerings of American poetry in our times.”

 

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the nearby UT San Jacinto Garage.

‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an’ Author Wins $10,000 Hamilton Book Award

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, grand prize winner of the Hamilton Book Awards.

Denise Spellberg, professor in the Departments of History, Middle Eastern Studies and Religious Studies, won the $10,000 grand prize at the Hamilton Book Awards for her work “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.” (Knopf, 2013) on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.

The awards are the highest honor of literary achievement given to published authors at The University of Texas at Austin. They are sponsored by the University Co-operative Society.

TJQIn “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders,” Spellberg recounts how a handful of the country’s founders, Jefferson foremost among them, drew upon Enlightenment ideas about the tolerance of Muslims to fashion a practical foundation for governance in America. For more about the book listen to her podcast on the History Department’s Not Even Past website.

Four other UT Austin professors received $3,000 runner-up prizes:

– Desmond F. Lawler — Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, for his work “Water Quality Engineering: Physical/Chemical Treatment Processes,” co-authored with Mark Benjamin, University of Washington; Published by John Wiley & Sons

– Huaiyin Li — Department of History, for his work “Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing”; Published by University of Hawaii Press

– Allison E. Lowery — Department of Theatre and Dance, for her work “Historical Wig Styling: Volumes 1 and 2”; Published by Focal Press/Taylor and Francis Group

– Mark Metzler — Department of Asian Studies, for his work “Capital as Will and Imagination: Schumpeter’s Guide to the Postwar Japanese Miracle”; Published by Cornell University Press

The Hamilton Awards are named in honor of Professor Robert W. Hamilton, the Minerva House Drysdale Regent Chair-Emeritus in Law. Professor Hamilton was chair of the Co-op Board for 12 years, from 1989 to 2001, and was in large measure responsible for the Co-op’s uncommon growth and profitability during that period. Visit this website for more about the award winners.

Lucie Brock-Broido to Speak on Campus Oct. 16

The UT Michener Center for Writers will host a reading by acclaimed poet Lucie Brock-Broido on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302, on UT campus.The event is free and open to the public.

Book Cover: Stay, IllusionBrock-Broido’s newest collection, Stay, Illusion, was a finalist in Poetry for the 2013 National Book Award.  Her previous collections include Trouble in Mind, The Master Letters, and A Hunger. Her poetry has appeared in many magazines and literary journals including The Paris Review, Parnassus:  Poetry in Review, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, Best American Poetry, and The New Yorker. Director of Poetry in the School of Arts of Columbia University in NYC, she is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA support, and the Witter-Bynner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Richard Pells’ War Babies Released

War BabiesWar Babies: The Generation that Changed America by Richard Pells, emeritus professor of history, was released in August by Cultural History Press. Pells examines the lives of famous Americans born between 1939 and 1945, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.

War Babies may be ordered from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1t39MPD

Read an excerpt: http://authorrichardpells.com/excerpt-from-war-babies-carl-bernsteins-memories-of-mccarthyism

A Q&A with Ecosickness Author Heather Houser

Take a look at your surroundings. Are you sitting in a climate-controlled office next to a window overlooking a sea of traffic? Or are you skimming this article on a porch swing underneath a shady oak tree? Whether you’re surrounded by wide open spaces or a concrete jungle, your environment is significantly affecting your emotional and physical well-being.

Houser-bookAuthors such as David Foster Wallace and Leslie Marmon Silko have explored this intrinsic bond with the natural world in a genre of fiction called “Ecosickness.” In a new book Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction, UT Austin English Professor Heather Houser shows how contemporary American novels and memoirs are developing a new understanding of the connections between ecological damage and physical health.

Read on to learn more about her book and how this new mode of contemporary American fiction is sparking questions about the current state of our environment—and the potential consequences of techno-scientific innovations such as regenerative medicine and alternative ecosystems.

How did you become interested in this particular literary genre?

My initial interest was in 20th-century narratives of disease. As I read a wide range of works on this theme, I began to notice many writers couldn’t talk about disease without also depicting built and non-built environments and ecological issues. I was aware of environmental health memoirs such as Susanne Antonetta’s Body Toxic and Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, but what I was finding didn’t quite fit this genre. Unlike these books, ecosickness fiction is less interested in determining the causal link between environmental conditions and disease. Instead it imagines how emotions, narrative techniques, and aesthetics bring body and earth into relation. One way I explain this in Ecosickness is by showing how recent U.S. novels and memoirs “medicalize” environmental representation, that is, how they figure space using specialized anatomical and physiological terms, often ones referring to the body in a state of dysfunction. Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a rich site for this representational strategy.

Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at UT Austin.

Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at UT Austin.

How can people benefit from gaining an awareness of their environmental surroundings?

To put it bluntly, the environment is us; self-awareness and awareness of social, economic, and political structures emerge from environmental awareness. For many, spending time in more natural settings and interacting with animals produce joy and rejuvenate. This is certainly an important benefit of environmental awareness. Yet even if we’d rather be inside playing video games than out swimming in rivers, we’re still embedded in our environments. The state of our surroundings affects our health, where we live, how we get from point A to point B, what we eat, and much more. Just as importantly, the environment is a repository for changing historical and social conditions; it records individuals’ and a culture’s values.

Is there an Ecosickness author in particular who inspires you?

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead inspired the ideas for the project, even though it may be the book in Ecosickness I enjoyed reading the least. It’s challenging because of its length, huge cast of characters, loose structure and depictions of violence and depravity. It’s the most overtly political book I examine and imagines a revolution sweeping through the Americas that will destroy capitalism and colonialism and restore and heal lands expropriated from indigenous peoples.

Silko builds anxiety through a number of strategies, above all through scenes in which villainous characters use biotechnologies like genetic manipulation and artificial ecosystems to promote injustice. We might think anxiety is useful for stirring up a population and fomenting revolution; I wondered if this was the case. I asked whether, in the novel, anxiety impinges on the very possibility of revolutionary action the book otherwise advocates. Almanac was so inspiring to my research because it powerfully demonstrates that environmental scholars need to account for the full spectrum of environmental effects and study how those emotions influence our ethical and political orientations.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

A crucial takeaway of Ecosickness and my other research is that we can’t comprehend environmental challenges and their ethical dimensions through the languages of science and economics alone. We must call on aesthetic tropes, metaphors, and narratives and the knowledge they produce. Our bodies and emotions are crucial conduits to understanding and responding to environmental change. I emphasize this point in the book’s conclusion, when I describe ecosickness fiction as “an invitation to read its stories out into the world. It opens channels to the talk between policy and psychology, aesthetics and activism, education and ethics, and data and doxa that positive interventions in pervasive sickness demand.”

Could you highlight a particular message in this book that is relevant today?

One of the thrills of studying contemporary culture is that most everything I research is relevant today. But if I had to choose a message that’s most relevant both today and in the day-to-day, it’s that we must approach techno-scientific “fixes” to illness and environmental with respectful skepticism. Ecosickness authors aren’t technophobes or antiscience, and my book doesn’t encourage these positions either. I hit on the idea of respectful skepticism throughout my readings but perhaps most poignantly in the chapter on AIDS memoirs by Jan Zita Grover and Wojnarowicz and how they conceptualize discord. Grover’s and Wojnarowicz’s books show discord to be crucial to the medical politics of AIDS and the environmental politics of land development because it helps us strike a balance between trust in science and skepticism toward it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I hope Ecosickness expands our sense of what counts as “environmental literature.” When I say this is my research area, people often assume I study Henry David Thoreau or Edward Abbey. Yet environmental representation is all around us, not just in works by artists we think of as environmentalist. Those representations shape how we perceive the world off the page and govern our responses to it. Therefore, it’s important to identify unexpected environmental tropes and examine their workings and functions wherever we find them.

From MOOC to eBook: John Hoberman on “Age of Globalization”

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John Hoberman in a video lecture on EdX.org

In Fall 2013, Dr. John Hoberman was among the first University of Texas professors to offer a MOOC, or Massively Open Online Course as part of edX,a consortium with Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and other global institutions of higher education. The course, Age of Globalization was very well received by the thousands of students worldwide who actively participated.  But for those who were not seeking to earn a certificate of completion, Hoberman wanted to offer the course in another format.   Thus, the College of Liberal Arts worked together with The University of Texas Press to create an enhanced e-book version of the course, now available to anyone who wants to better understand the systems of competition that drive globalization.

The video and audio enhanced e-book “Age of Globalization” is available in multiple e-reader formats, as well as through a standard web browser.

“When academic interest in something called “globalization” first came to my attention in 1995, it struck me as a remote and exotic topic,” says Hoberman.  Over the years, he’s found it a nearly limitless topic that allows deep and wide exploration into how the world works as a collection of overlapping systems.

For Hoberman, writing the lectures and writing the book were largely one and the same thing. “Composing the lectures required doing a lot of online research during the writing process.”  For the MOOC, these lectures were videotaped short 9- to 13- minute segments, divided into twelve sections.  “I wrote the twelve sections aiming for a jargon-free clarity of presentation that suited both the video lectures and the eventual e-book text. “ The transcripts from the video production became the basis for the text of the enhanced e-book.

“I’m very glad the electronic book is available because it is undoubtedly a more efficient learning experience than watching and listening to the videos, even with the text scrolling down on the right-hand side of the screen,” said Hoberman. “The advantage of the visual MOOC experience is that the narration is integrated with hundreds of useful and instructive images such as maps and photos of all sorts of things. The e-book contains dozens of images, including some that are interactive, but watching the MOOC on screen will understandably be the more dramatic visual experience.”

Image from the Course by LAITS Development Studio

Image from the Course by LAITS Development Studio

Hoberman continues to monitor current global developments, such as various international  organizations including United Nations, NGO’s like Greenpeace, as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the major international sports federations that are affiliated with it. He points to the recent 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games as an opportunity to watch globalization in action.

“The transnational IOC, which is accountable to no authority other than itself, represents itself as a peace movement that promotes human rights,” says Hoberman.  “But, in 2007, the IOC awarded the 2014 Winter Olympiad to Vladimir Putin and Russia, despite Putin’s merciless war against Chechnya (1999-2000) and his subversion of democracy in post-Communist Russia. The question here is whether a global ‘movement’ run by a group like the IOC is willing to take principled stands on behalf of ‘global norms’ that conflict with the objectives of dictatorial regimes. In fact, the IOC always fails to enforce “global norms” that represent humanitarian principles. In this case, President Putin rewarded the supposedly peace-promoting IOC by attacking Ukraine only days after the Closing Ceremonies of the Sochi Games,” Hoberman points out.

“The moral of this story is that the lofty claims of all global organizations should be carefully scrutinized and compared with what they actually do or do not do to promote the welfare of the global community.”

Hoberman’s compelling new e-book delves into the topics of Transportation, the Media and Internet, Transnational Organized Crime, Small Country Self Assertion, Popular Culture and Sports through the lens of Globalization, exposing the dramatic narrative of positive and negative forces that are affecting us all.

Follow these links to purchase the Age of Globalization enhanced e-book by John Hoberman:

Web-based ebook: http://tinyurl.com/ageofglobal
Apple iBook: https://itun.es/i6g82Qg
Amazon Kindle ebook: http://amzn.com/B00HQ50T8K
Google Play ebook: http://tinyurl.com/ageofglobal-google